Orange County, California, which for decades has been emblematic of conservatism and a Republican stronghold, has changed significantly demographically with the influx of Latinos and Asians, and the OC GOP is rethinking their political stance on immigration in order to start winning elections again. Both in 2008 and 2012, Irvine, which was a well-known bastion of conservatism, voted for Barack Obama, and in 2012, GOP Assemblyman Chris Norby, an outspoken conservative, was defeated by Latina schoolteacher Sharon Quirk-Silva.
Scott Baugh, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, explained the losses by citing the OC GOP “not fully appreciating the demographic shift and not seeing it in time.” But Baugh feels that the GOP can win Latinos back because that constituency appreciates the GOP’s emphasis on faith, family, education and hard work. Baugh said that once Congress finds a solution for the immigration issue, “It’s game on again in terms of a competition of ideas and values. You could wipe out a decade of declining registration by demonstrating to the Latino community that the values they have are the values we have.”
Teresa Hernandez, who runs the immigration reform committee for the conservative Lincoln Club of Orange County, said, “The Republican Party has done such a poor job of, one, messaging; and two, letting themselves be demonized and not fighting back. If I knock on the door and say, ‘I’m a Republican,’ they don’t want to hear what I say on the economy or education because they have it in their mind that I’m a bigot.”
The Orange County GOP has been hard-line on immigration for some time; they helped propose Proposition 187 in 1994 which was meant to cut public services for illegal immigrants. In 2006, when President George W. Bush came to pitch his immigration reform plan — which involved a guest-worker program — many members of the OC GOP criticized his plan as amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Joseph Cruz, an Irvine tax attorney and second-generation Filipino American, voted for Democrats because he felt immigrants needed a path to citizenship: “People assume it’s a Latino thing,” but Cruz said Republicans “haven’t said anything that’s really solution-based.”